Our History

The Franklin Library Association was formed on March 31, 1847 with Capt. Charles H. Bigelow, the engineer, under whom the Great Stone Dam was built, functioning as the library’s first president. Other original members were Caleb M. Marvel, and Charles S. Storrow.  Abbott Lawrence (who gave Lawrence its name) donated $1000 to purchase books that would “tend to create mechanics, good Christians and good patriots.” An additional $5000 came to the association when Mr. Lawrence died in 1855.

For many years the Franklin Library Association was the solitary literary presence in Lawrence. The Lawrence Athenaeum would host a course of lectures for two seasons and the Lawrence Lyceum continued for another two or three years. Both societies would merge into the Franklin Library Association, which would present a series of twelve lectures a year for many years.  The Association was a subscription library much like the Boston Athenaeum.  And like Boston it catered to the original Yankee citizenry.

In 1852, the Honorable Daniel A. White of Salem, Massachusetts set up the White Fund, the money to be used for the purchase of books and other library materials. July 6, 1872 the association turned over its library and funds to the City of Lawrence.  With the aid of the White Fund the Free Public Library was born.  Trustees of the White Fund proposed to contribute $1,000 annually to the Library for the purchase of books and other needed materials. The Library contained 11,624 volumes at the time.

The library was housed in the Saunders Block at 240 Essex Street.  With the establishment of the Free Public Library, the collection and materials became available to all residents of Lawrence.  Registration grew quickly as more and more working class people made use of the library's ever expanding materials.  Due to its success, the Lawrence Free Library moved to rooms in the Odd Fellows Hall on the southwest corner of Essex and Lawrence Streets. The Library’s first original building was located on the southwest corner of Hampshire and Haverhill streets at a cost of $50,000.  It was opened to the public in 1892.  George G. Adams, a local architect, designed the building in the Romance Revival style. The first floor of the building was used for reading and general delivery, and the second floor contained a 250-person capacity auditorium that was used for lectures, meetings and forums. The first Librarian was William A. Fletcher, who was then followed by Frederic K. Hedge, who held that position for 27 years.  In 1902 the new library was enlarged at a cost of $37,300.86 after much pleading from the director for a children’s room.  By 1923, the Library contained approximately 84,000 volumes, a notable reference department, and very modern facilities.  The White Fund held title to the Main Library until 1937 when the Trustees turned ownership over to the City.  When that building was sold in 1974, the proceeds of the sale were used to establish an endowment for the Public Library as had been specified by the Trustees of the White Fund in 1937.  The building was enlarged again in 1938.  The White Fund generously provided the money for the construction and expansion.

The South Lawrence branch was opened in a store near the railroad station, at 160 South Broadway, on August 1, 1898. An original building was constructed for use as a branch library and to replace the rented space on Broadway. The new library was opened for business October 10, 1927. It was and still is located at 135 Parker Street.

In 1965, a proposal for a new library facility got underway. The idea was that the new facility be a complete center of learning and information to the patrons and residents of Lawrence.  Facilities such as Exhibit Rooms, a Business Section, Audio-Visual Services, and special accommodations for advanced students and adults were all included in the planning of the new building.  The projected space needs for the new facility were based on the assumption that 250,000 volumes would have to be accommodated by 1985. Spaciousness, plenty of reading and browsing room, as well as easy access to all library materials were major concerns in the design and architecture of the proposed facility.

The new library was built on the northeast corner of Haverhill and Lawrence streets across from the Campagnone Common. The three-story, two and one half million dollar building, was dedicated June 10, 1973. The new building was 55,238 square feet in area, and the entire project cost $2,421,169. There was a total seating capacity (for readers and staff) of 760, plus the Irving W Sargent Auditorium, which has seats for 270 more persons.

Both the main and branch libraries still exist and are in use as libraries(2018). The former library building became the Old Library Professional Building and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The White Fund, created by Judge Daniel Appleton White, still provides a course of lectures annually and aids other educational enterprises. The fund also provided the land for the first library building.

The directors of the library were William I. Fletcher 1872-1874, Frederic K. Hedge 1874-1901, William A. Walsh 1901-1938 Richard L. Sullivan 1938-1956, John A. Griffin 1957-1975, James Kennedy 1975-1982, Barbara DeYoung 1982-1984, Joseph R. Dionne 1984-1999, David Hildt, acting director 2000, acting director, Sharon Doyle 2001-2, Javier Corredor 2002-2004, Maureen Nimmo 2004-2016, Kemal Bozkurt acting director 2016, and Jessica Valentin 2016-the present (2018).

The library has progressed with the times since the opening of the current facility. Our third floor, which houses the administrative offices of the library, has been used, until recently, as rental space. The space has been used by Northern Essex Community College and by the Americorps/Youthbuild program. Renovation projects in 1999, 2000 and 2005/6 have resulted in a modified plaza-style entry area with a semicircular driveway, a new parking area on the corner of Haverhill and Lawrence Streets, complete re-carpeting of the entire facility, a new meeting room dedicated to the poet Robert Frost and the addition of a local history room. These two later additions are on the third floor area mentioned above. The Library has continued in its core mission of collecting a variety of materials considered most enjoyable and beneficial to our community.  We have also greatly expanded the formats available in our collection. The collection now includes computer software, videos, DVDs, CDs as well as an extensive collection of microform materials for historical and genealogical research.  The Library houses a sixteen station computer lab in its main facility adult services area, as well as four stations in the Children’s room and eight more in our Branch Library.

Online Services

As a member of the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium and the Northeast Massachusetts Regional Library System, the Lawrence Public Library is able to offer quality online databases to its patrons as well as take part in the interlibrary loan program run through the entire state. The current library administration has made educational purchasing a high priority particularly in the area of free, library card accessible online services, available for both home and library use.

Management

The Library is under the management and control of its Board of Trustees. This board consists of the Mayor, three trustees of the White Fund (these members are ex-officio) and five citizens elected by the City Council.

Budget

The Library's annual budget is made up by the Library administration and the city’s Budget and Finance Director. It is then adopted by a majority vote of the city council.

The directors of the library were William I. Fletcher 1872-1874, Frederic K. Hedge 1874-1901, William A. Walsh 1901-1938 Richard L. Sullivan 1938-1956, John A. Griffin 1957-1975, James Kennedy 1975-1982, Barbara DeYoung 1982-1984, Joseph R. Dionne 1984-1999, David Hildt, acting director 2000, acting director, Sharon Doyle 2001-2, Javier Corredor 2002-2004, Maureen Nimmo 2004-2016, Kemal Bozkurt acting director 2016, and Jessica Valentin 2016-the present (2018).